The temperature in the great room drops to arctic conditions. Christian’s icy glower is soon followed by raging fury and finally replaced with his carefully schooled impassive look as the realisation of our uncommitted, undefined state strikes him. I can see Taylor over the slant of Christian’s rigid shoulders, steeling himself for a situation that might get out of hand.
I know exactly what this must look like to Christian – someone else thieving his position in a family that he feels belongs to him. I also know he won’t give me the benefit of the doubt where Dr Shawn is concerned, never considering that I see him as just a friend.
Adrenaline makes me jumpy and I stand too quickly, my movements unnatural – screaming my unintended guilt. “Christian, hi!” I force out a nervously pitched squeak. “Come and meet Dr O’ Reily” I plaster a bright smile on my chalky face that even my rising blush can’t colour.
Dr Shawn turns around to follow my surprised watch, beaming a sincere, open smile at Christian.
Oh boy, he has no idea! The medieval maiden in me instantly gets an image of them duelling it out with drawn swords and my inner goddess fans herself, flushed. Harlot!
Christian’s expression alters again, this time it’s surprise as he assesses Dr Shawn’s handsome, rugged face. I’m moored to the spot, fascinated by Christian’s candid measure of Dr Shawn.
Chris runs to Christian and barrels into his knees, clamouring for his dad to pick him up. “Daddy, daddy, I have a crocodile! It’s under the couch!”
With that uncanny way of his, Christian turns his full attention to Chris and smiles warmly, any clue to the war inside hidden deep. “You do? We’ll have to hunt it down and catch it; no crocodiles in the house, they might bite you!” with that he growls and makes to bite a chunk out of Chris’ belly.
Chris has another giggle fit and tries to wriggle out of Christian’s arms, squirming and kicking wildly. When Christian sets him down he runs to me and hides behind me, delighting in the game and oblivious to the undercurrent in the room. It occurs to me that Christian won’t do anything crazy with Chris around and I gulp a breath in relief.
Dr Shawn has made his way to Christian, extending his arm in greeting, still smiling but now with a hint of uncertainty. When Christian returns the shake, the room explodes with hard and heavy testosterone, both men drop their heads slightly, eyes locked, like two bulls ready to charge. Dr Shawn bearing the brunt of the full force Grey glare.
They don’t need to say anything – battle lines have been drawn – both of them with a clear comprehension of the parameters and the prize. There’s no space for introductions and niceties here… I’m annoyed that even though this seems to be about me, I don’t have any say in this outrageously ridiculous pissing contest.
“Taylor will see you out” Christian barely manages to be civil.
Dr Shawn nods, breaks away from Christian’s grip and does the worst thing he can. He walks casually back to me and places another full smacker on my utterly stunned lips, smiles down at me and winks. My eyes expand in shock and the last of my colour drains away. I’m still rooted in place, too numb to move. He lifts Chris into the air and gives him a bear hug.
“Bye Dr Shawn!” my little boy’s innocent voice contrasting harshly with the thunderous air in the great room and I pull him to me, prepared to shield him from the storm breaking.
Dr Shawn is waving a bright red flag at an already agitated bull, it’s clear that Christian’s considerable control is frayed, hanging by a thread and I pray for it to hold just another minute. He ambles back to Christian – seemingly unconcerned – but thankfully, ready to go.
As he passes Christian, they fix their stares again and I see Christian mouth some words to him. I can’t hear but Dr Shawn’s body stiffens in response before he strides away, Taylor following to ensure that he leaves.
I drop onto the couch sucking in air as I go. That was crazy intense! I know I should be grateful that they didn’t beat the crap out of each other but I’m so mad that it almost got that far. Christian’s overreaction was way over!
He stomps past me, his anger still tightly coiled inside, discharging a promise of violence as he disappears into his study and slams the door.
As I sit there, pounding heart and nerves grating I just get madder. He sent the doctor to us! I do like him and if I’m honest, he’s good for my shaky ego – what girl wouldn’t be flattered if an attractive guy pays her some attention – but that’s it. He doesn’t bring me that toe curling, pelvis clenching, heart constricting desire that I have with Christian. But Christian is mad at me! I didn’t kiss the doc, he kissed me! I didn’t make him come to Escala, Christian arranged it. I was only planning on going to this charity thing to help him out – though – I’m pretty sure that that’s off the cards now. All of this while Christian is still woefully uncommitted to me!
Fuck, fuck, fuck! I try to draw from Ana 2.0 but she’s mad too! Fuelled with anger and resolve I pick Chris up and plant him in front of the big screen. I pick a movie, knowing that it will keep him riveted for a while. After a hug and a kiss I’m ready to face Christian in what might be our biggest showdown yet. It’s time he makes up his damn mind.
My rapid knock on his study door is in time with my pounding heart but I don’t wait for him to invite me in. I open the door and find him on the phone. I only catch the end of the conversation.
“…..yes, that’s what I said, in half and hour!” he barks at the caller and slams it down. Storm grey eyes never leaving mine.
“Was that Dr Flynn?” I ask, a hopeful seed in my chest.
He snorts, “I haven’t seen Flynn in years.” His tone carries every accusation his heart has filed away against me and his stare is cold.
It hikes up my boiling anger, “maybe you should reconsider.” The challenge flashes in my eyes.
“Are you looking for a fight Anastasia?” his graceful body is prowling toward me from behind his desk, predatory and damn right scary.
I back down a little, injecting some calm into my voice, “no Christian but what the hell just happened?”
“What happened?” his incredulous whisper screaming his anger as a deep crease folds into his brow. “Tell me Anastasia, is there a fucking man alive that isn’t under your spell?” he growls these words at me and I step back, bringing my body flush against the closed door. He smacks both palms onto the door, each one on either side of my head, his tense form caging me in.
The sound makes me jump and for the first time ever I’m afraid of him, really afraid. I feel the heat of his fury, his unrelenting gaze drilling into mine. My mouth is paper dry; I can only plead his mercy with my eyes as I slowly shake my head no.
“I should lock you up in a fucking tower!” his face is just inches away from me, his breathing is ragged as he labours under his slipping restraint.
Defiance lances through my fear and reconnects me with my anger, “I’m not yours to lock up.” My hoarse whisper is laced with the quiet steel of truth.
I watch my words settle on him and he closes his eyes, pressing his forehead against mine. I can hear him grinding his teeth in frustration. “Why are you mad at me?” my voice a little bolder now that I can see him clawing back his precious control.
“I didn’t bring him into our lives, I didn’t kiss him back.” I slide my hands up his chest then cup his face, the ever present stubble grazing my hands. “At worst I’m flattered by his attention.” I will him to open his eyes and look at me.
His lids fly open and the searing watch scorches me with a fevered zeal. “He wants my son and he wants you, his desire for you burns naked in his face.”
“For now, we’re here. With you.” I pause to give my statement time to get a grip in his mind. “But you can’t let things get out of hand like that, especially with Chris around. The thing is, the doc has been great with Chris and they genuinely like each other. I’ve started to look to him as a friend.” I emphasise the last word while reasoning with him all the while keeping my voice low.
When I hear him draw breath to protest I warn him with a lone finger on his lips not to interrupt me. “He can want all he likes but Chris is your son, nothing will ever change that. I’ve told you what I want from you but you’re the one holding back and until that changes, you don’t get to be proprietary over me.”
I was hoping that bringing up his possessive nature will create an opportunity to give him my contract but he zeroes in on something else and I see the chance fade.
“You’re leaving?” he pushes off the door and treads back; a mega dose of distress drags two raking hands through his hair. A look of confusion pinches his features.
“I’m not sure what you were expecting Christian,” it’s my turn to look sceptical and both my hands are splayed open – palms up, “once this threat blows over, we’ll be going home.” I gulp against my constricting throat. I don’t want to go home, but if we’re not together how can I stay?
Resignation clouds his eyes as he accepts my words and not for the first time I wonder what it would take to get him to see that he’s denying something he wants just as badly as I do. I always knew it was going to be an epic job to chip away at the walls he keeps himself hidden behind but I’m beginning to lose hope.
As an afterthought I remember Dr Shawn’s invite. I better tell Christian before he finds out by some other stalky way. “Just so you know, Dr Shawn invited me to join him on Monday night for a Doctors without Borders benefit – just as friends – but in the light of today’s… stand-off, I don’t think I’ll be going.”
“I don’t want you anywhere near him.” It’s a command, resolute and final.
“Like I said Christian, it’s not your decision to make.”
We glare at each other, stubborn and fractious, emotions tangling in a twisted mess.
“Bastille is waiting for me, I have to go.” He tucks his head down and stalks out the room.
Ah, that’s what the call was about. Good! Go kick the shit out of something! Maybe that’ll improve his brooding mood. Actually I envy him; I wouldn’t mind kicking the crap out of a few things myself right now!
So much for getting a decision out of him.
I leave the study reeling, drained and disheartened. My flailing willpower to fight for this relationship is fast overtaking my desire to be in it. I miss my mom, I wish I could call her to come over and watch Chris so I can wallow in my self-pity for a while but my little champ will be ready for lunch round about now and a mother never gets a day off.
As predicted the first words out of Chris’ mouth when he sees me is that he’s hungry. “I want pizza mommy!”
Ah yes, Chris and pizza, I sigh inward. I started this pizza making thing with him to teach him how to eat veggies and it soon became a favourite activity for us. We make it from scratch, roll out the dough and decorate them with a rainbow of vegetables. He loves it so much that he refuses to eat bought pizza so, where other moms get a break when it’s pizza night, for me it’s a big job that culminates in a huge cleaning chore.
Normally I don’t mind, I love the time we spend together but today I lack my usual enthusiasm. “What about some cheese toast? Yum, yum!” I coax.
“Noooooo pizza!” he crosses his arms and gets an obstinate look that I’ve recently become reacquainted with. So like his father.
I shake my head. Maybe it’ll be good for us, a little normality; it may also keep my mind off the impending grandparent visit. “Okay buddy, let’s go.”
I admire the well-stocked fridge and find more than I could possibly need. I take out some shelling peas; something for him to do that doesn’t require a knife. I switch on the oven and start on the dough. After the peas, Chris does the kneading and I choose something frivolous from my iPod for us to listen too. LMFO, that should do it I think when the strains of “I’m Sexy and I Know It” starts to reverberate around the room with a pulsing, reinvigorating energy.
Chris decides to make pizza for everyone, Christian, Collins and the expected grandparents so we make mini sizes with a mad range of toppings. Looking at it I know their hearts will melt. He’s so sweet, my little boy. I can’t resist kissing him on the bunched V of his forehead signalling his concentration.
I put half in the oven and keep the other half to bake when Grace and Carrick arrives. The smell of baking dough and bubbling mozzarella fills the kitchen and wafts well into the great room, it’s an enticing aroma and my mouth starts to water.
As I pull the tray out of the oven with an impatient Chris keeping a close eye, Christian strolls back in, this time without Taylor lurking in the background. His black tank top is clinging to his sweat slick body in a way that makes me want to bite him. His sweat pants hang on that sexy low of his hips, inviting to be pushed down. He seems much more relaxed and I have to focus on keeping my breathing even.
“That smells amazing!” there’s a tentative glint in his eyes as he searches my face for my mood.
I answer with a reserved smile and equally tentative, “that it does, your son’s creative work.” I lift him off the counter so he can go to Christian.
“I made you some pizza daddy!” he bounds to Christian’s side and leads him over by the hand. “Come, eat with us!”
It’s gratifying to see that Chris has embraced Christian so wholeheartedly and I love the way he draws him in, his child mind already understanding that they have a relationship to build, lost time to make up for.
“That’s fantastic buddy; did you do this all by yourself?”
“No, mommy helped me. Why are you so wet?” he pinches a fold of Christian’s tank top between his fingers and pulls it away.
“I went boxing at the gym, should I go shower first?” Christian winks at me, amused with Chris.
“No, it’s okay, you don’t stink.” His child-like matter-of-factness is adorable and Christian and I giggle together, melting the coolness between us away.
I try to relax during lunch but the virtual clock tick-tocking in my head has me on edge; soon it’ll be time to face Grace and Carrick. On one level I’m keen to get it over with but on another I would love to never deal with them again. What they must think of me!
“That was great buddy, thank you!” Christian kisses Chris on his cheek as he passes him on the way to stack his plate in the dishwasher.
Chris basks in Christian’s compliment and does his best to impress his dad further, “we made some extra for grandma and grandpa.”
Christian hears his note of pride and pays him a little extra attention, ready to prove that he’ll never have to fight for his dad’s approval. “That’s very thoughtful of you; I know that it’ll make them feel very welcome.”
Chris’ beaming smile is Christian’s reward and I marvel at how insightful he can be.
Mrs Taylor will only be back on Monday which leaves the cleaning duties to us. Christian makes a game out of it with Chris and all too soon we’re done, bringing us another moment closer to the grandparent face-off, as I’ve dubbed it in my head.
“Oh, by the way, mom said that Mia will be coming along this afternoon.” It’s a casual statement, like telling me it’s a sunny day – apparently oblivious to my clutching anxiety as he strolls away to take his shower.
Great! I think sarcastically, another Grey that I adore to disappoint.
Not long after Christian joins us in the great room Collins announces the threesome’s arrival. I’ve done everything I can to bolster my quivering nerves, I’ve changed into a demure dress, re-applied my make-up and twisted my hair into an sophisticated bun, trying to erase any reference to what they surely must think of as fickle Ana.
To his flabbergasted annoyance, Chris had undergone the same treatment. He’s scrubbed and brushed and changed, looking the model grandson for this occasion. As we stand I resist the urge to lick my fingers and smooth down his wayward hair but I give-in to re-adjusting his clothes – again and I get an irritated wiggle from him, my nerves unable to let me leave well enough alone.
Christian takes my hand as we walk to the Foyer to meet them, my heart a rolling drumbeat in my chest while I hold onto his as if it’s the air I need to breathe. He looks to our joint hands and then to me, amusement and sympathy swirl in his eyes, “It’ll be fine,” he reassures me.
Easy for him to say!
Grace is her usual elegant, contained self and she smiles warmly at me enveloping me in a big hug before pushing my shoulders back and studying my face, “you look wonderful darling girl, it’s so good to see you!” her affectionate smile couldn’t have surprised me more.
I get more of the same from Carrick though he’s a tad more reserved. Mia bounces excitedly in front of me and clamps me to her chest, “oh Ana, I’ve missed you!”
Chris has both arms curled around my leg, shyness hiding him behind the folds of my dress as he peeks around my side at the newcomers.
When Grace spots him she goes pale and her hand flies to her mouth. It muffles the mewling gasp as her memories compare Chris’ healthy glow to Christian’s malnourished, unwashed condition when he first came to live with them. Carrick grips both her shoulders, no doubt sharing the same flash back as Chris’ likeness to Christian stares them in the face.
Mia, who has no recollection of this, gives him a dazzling smile, her eyes lively with joy as she kneels in front of him, almost reverently. “Hi” it’s a breathy, awed whisper.
Her openness draws him out from behind my skirt and he gives her a wave, biting his bottom lip – still uncertain but curious.
I crouch down next to him, “this is daddy’s sister, she’s your aunt! Her name is Mia.”
“But you can call me Mia, just Mia, aunt is for stuffy old ladies!” she interjects, playfully pinching him on his tummy.
He chuckles dodging behind me, beginning a game of peek-a-boo with her over my shoulders.
When she catches my eye all I see is sincerity’s bright glow. “He’s gorgeous Ana, well done!”
Her utter lack of anger toward me has me stumped and I feel the tightness of unease grow in the pit of my belly.
Mia straightens and envelops Christian in one of her full-body hugs then punches him on the arm, “you’re an ass you know that!”
“Hello to you too Mia.” As is his usual way with her, he eyes her with indulgent amusement.
What is going on here?
It’s Grace and Carrick’s turn to meet Chris now that they’ve had time to recompose themselves. With emotion still thick, strumming just below the surface they both bend down to connect with him at his level.
Carrick is first to speak, “hello there young man.” He holds out his hand and offers it to Chris. He hesitates only for an instant before returning his grandfather’s shake enthusiastically, pumping his arm up and down, enjoying the novelty of being greeted like an adult.
“Hello,” he clasps his hands in front of him and swings his shoulders from side to side. When he’s sees Carrick’s encouraging smile he risks a question, “is your name grandad?”
Carrick throws his head back in a great bark of laughter, finally piercing the awkwardness, providing the perfect ice breaker.
“No, my name is Carrick but you can call me grandad if you like.” He winks at Chris and reaches for Grace’s hand.
“And this,” his warm gaze affirming and comforting at once as he looks to Grace, “is your grandma, Grace.”
Grace is trying her very best to keep her cheerful smile but another wave of feelings engulfs her. Instinct takes over and she wraps her arms around him, powerless to fight the tide’s rise.
I’m awed and humbled at the ready, instant love for him. Grace is openly weeping, pressing Chris into her neck, stroking his hair and kissing him over and over. I watch a hesitant little arm curve around her shoulder to pat gently, soothing her.
The dam wall that served as containment for my emotions over the last five years cracks then ruptures, breaching all my defences in an unstoppable gush. The guilt, shame and regret flooding the banks of my being, sweeping everything away in its powerful surge and forcing my spilling tears.
I can hardly breathe against the crushing heave. It’s only Christian’s steeled embrace anchoring me, I would be grateful if I had the capacity for it right now.
In that moment my regret sears so hot, so true that I feel branded with it. How will I ever explain? I drag a breath uttering a shaky, stammering apology, “I’m.. I’m so sorry.” I know how pitifully inadequate it is, their forgiveness is much more than I deserve.
Grace lifts her tear streaked face and stands with Chris in her arms, along with Carrick and Mia they move to surround us and draws us into a family hug.
When we eventually break away, readjusting to the new way our emotions have settled, Chris is the one with something on his mind, “you can call me Chris,” his thumb poking proudly into his chest.
It’s like a cleansing breath for us all, his quirky little sense of humour that makes us smile real smiles as it dawns that no-one ever bothered to introduce him.
We congregate in the great room, taking seats and start the journey to recovery and reconnecting.
I offer a round of drinks and slip away to the kitchen to put Chris’ pizzas in the oven. When I start with coffee, Grace joins me. “Ana, he’s such a lovely child; you did a great job with him.” As the mother of three fantastic children her comment flatters me but I still can’t help or explain the tight knot of suspicious uncertainty I feel about their very warm welcome for me.
“Thank you Grace, he’s a pleasure, I enjoy him so much.”
After an awkward silent beat she starts, “darling girl, I know this is hard; and even harder to talk about but please,” her troubled eyes plead with mine, “don’t let Christian’s rash behaviour come between us. He knows he made a huge mistake, I’m just so grateful that he’s eventually came around. If only he had come to me, talked to me, I could’ve put things in perspective for him. ” Her hand rests lightly on my forearm punctuating her sincerity, it’s just that I’ve no idea what she’s talking about.
“Can I help you with the tray Anastasia?” Christian interrupts before I have a chance to find out.
“Uhm, yes, sure. Thank you.” I slide the tray across the counter for him to take and for reasons unknown, I blush. He narrows his slate gaze at us then engages his mother so that she has no choice but to follow him back to the great room.
When the mini pizzas are ready I call Chris over and he takes great pleasure in walking around with a serving dish, offering his creations. His pride is adorable and everyone’s completely besotted with him. The whole scene is heart-warming, my heart squeezing at all the love surrounding him; he’s brought an extra measure of happiness to their lives.
The talk is mostly about Chris and he gets passed on from one Grey to the next, sitting on their laps and basking in the attention. The topic turns to his birth and the doctor in Grace drills me about the details. Every so often I catch Christian’s expression which he’s carefully guarding but when I recount the story of the emergency caesarean I had to have when infant Chris was in distress, his horror is unmistakable. He makes a grab for my hand, drawing the attention of the whole family who stares at our locked hands in astonishment. The blush racing up my face is accompanied by a cringe.
Mia comes to the rescue and shares her news that I’ve missed over the last few years. She’s opened her own little Bistro which of course is roaring but she’s still unattached, “looking for Mr Right,” she quips but the shadow passing her gaze is at odds with her flippant tone. I wonder what happened between her and Ethan.
Beside me Christian straightens his legs and leans to one side to fish his phone out of his pants pocket. It’s obviously on the silent setting. He glances at the screen then makes his excuse to take the call in privacy. His long strides take him to the seclusion of his study in double quick time.
I hope it’s useful news about our threat-situation.
“Ana, I know it’s all very new but if ever you need someone to babysit this little angel – for any reason – please keep us in mind.” She gives Carrick’s hand a warm squeeze where it rests on her knee, a loving look passing between them. “It’s been such a long time since we’ve had little feet patter around the old place.”
I smile as sincerely as I can, how can I refuse? “I’ll do that! Thank you.”
When Christian joins us the tension around his eyes are unambiguous and he’s vibrating with a quiet, simmering anger.
Carrick takes the cue, “I think we’ve exhausted this little man enough for one day,” he winks and tickles Chris as he pushes himself up and holds a hand out to Grace.
They all stand and I see Christian’s indebted but discreet nod to his dad. Mia elbows Grace out of the way to be the one to carry Chris to the elevator and it’s clear that she’s taken up the role of favourite, flamboyant aunt with glee.
With hugs all around and a promise to see each other soon, everyone is more at ease except for me; I’m still unable to shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right.
Christian’s agitated hand sweeps through his hair when the elevator doors swish closed and with the other he pinches the bridge of his nose. The grey in his eyes looking bleak.
“What’s the matter?” I ask hoping that for once it’s not me.
“Can we talk?” he looks down to Chris and I know he means alone.
“Sure, I’ll just get something for him to do,” he nods and marches to his study.
I set Chris up with a game on the iPad and feel like a sheep heading for slaughter on my way to Christian. The silent prayer for him not to be mad at me again is a chant in my head.
A cautious knock from me on the open door alerts him to my presence and, gallant as ever, he stands until I take a seat across from him. “I need to ask you something and you have to be completely honest with me, think really hard, this is important.” He starts with no preamble.
“Okay,” the flutters of fear beginning a slow dance in my stomach. All qualms about his unrealistically forgiving and accepting parents flee my mind.
“Have you ever mentioned my, uhm… lifestyle to anyone, discussed it with anyone?”
I shake my head; this is definitely something I’m certain of, “apart from Kate whom you already know about, I’ve never breathed a word.”
“Not even Jose?” his mouth twisting at the taste of Jose’s name.
“No Christian, never, not one word.” My head making an emphatic shake.
He blows out a long breath, slumps back and slides a hand through his hair.
“It’s not Kate, any scandal surrounding me will be a scandal for them too and she wouldn’t betray me like that.” He’s ponderous, almost talking to himself.
Kate will be part of a scandal surrounding Christian? Christian trusts Kate?
“What’s going on?” fear pushing dread through my veins.
“The call earlier, it was from Welsh. He’s been informed by someone we trust that a “reporter” has been sniffing around, trying to interview members of an exclusive BDSM club that I used to belong to. Asking about me. It seems he’s working on an expose.” There’s a bile bitterness in the cadence of his voice.
“No!” my fingers flutter to the well of my throat, “do you think it’s connected to the message in your office and our attempted break in?”
“It’s hard to say but it must be more than a coincidence that all of this is happening at once. Barney has set up an interview with the reporter, posing as a member of the club to gain access to the guy’s hard drive, weird thing is, he isn’t who he says he is. The publication he claims to work for has never heard of him and we can’t find any record of him being a freelancer. ”
“And? Have you seen what he has so far, maybe leads on his sources?” I concentrate to keep my tone even in spite of my thumping heart.
“No, I’m waiting for him to e-mail me.” He’s still for a beat and then surprises me by continuing, “things have turned messy with the Korean negotiations, I’m taking over a poorly run renewable energy plant and a handful of corrupt directors are planning to vote against my takeover. A scandal like this will give them the ammo to kill the deal. The company will go under; the crooked board members will squirrel away millions in government grants while thousands will lose their jobs.”
Not for the first time it strikes me that he carries an immense responsibility on his shoulders. To be held accountable for so many people’s livelihood must be stressful enough but the pressure he puts on himself exceeds it by far yet, he never seems to falter. It’s admirable and commands respect, sexy as hell – this powerful, composed man.
“North or South Korea?” I ask hoping to look informed.
“South, in Seoul” he answers me, looking down and pale.
We remain silent for a while, mulling over the latest information.
“The members of this club, do you trust them?” My question draws his eyes back to mine.
“Yes, I do, they have a lot to lose if they talk, many of them are prominent in the business world. I’m more concerned with where he got the tipoff. This is a very private club, not the type of thing that you can look-up in the yellow pages,” his mouth forms a wry line, “strictly referrals only.”
His e-mail pings a message alert and he pours himself into the facts making me feel surplus, “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Is it okay if I get Chris ready for bed?”
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry Anastasia,” he shakes his head clearing it, apologising for losing himself in his task, “sure, get him ready, I’ll come and read him a story when you’re done.”
I go through the motions with Chris, bathing him and brushing teeth but my mind is with Christian, concern gnawing away at my peace.
Chris drags Christian away from his desktop for story time and for a short while we forget the invading outside world. Many cuddles later Chris settles and beams a sleepy, happy smile at us before he embraces sleep.
It always amazes me how Christian can compartmentalise his feelings. I know that he’s worried about the latest developments but you’d never know looking at him when he’s with Chris.
“Any news?” I ask once we’ve closed the door and walk back to the great room.
“Not much, no. So far he seems to have come up empty on me except for the usual info that’s public knowledge but he does have a contact list, Barney will cross reference that to our database and see if anything matches.”
I nod; a little bewildered at his recourses. “Can I pour you a glass of wine?”
I pour us both a glass and straighten out the kitchen while Christian sits at the breakfast nook. I feel his gaze follow me around and it heats my blood spreading a rosy glow on my cheeks.
It makes me feel naked, exposed so I break the silence with a query that’s been weighing on my mind, “You mentioned Kate earlier; you obviously still have contact with her.” I’m too chicken to ask outright, phrasing it so that he can fill in the blanks.
“Yes, she’s married to Elliot now. They’ve been in Holland for the last two years, working on a joint venture with the EU and various aid agencies to come up with a design for an eco dwelling that can be mass produced, assembled quickly and moved anywhere for use in refugee camps, natural disaster zones, you know, that kind of thing.” His hand makes a vague all-encompassing gesture.
“Wow, that’s great.” That’s another person I’m dreading to face. In my single-minded determination to hide from Christian I avoided her along with everyone else. I know she must be super pissed at me, writing off our friendship like that. I hope she can understand that I didn’t want to jeopardise her relationship with Elliot and put her in an impossible position to choose.
He regards me quizzically, hearing my lack of conviction, “it might surprise you that Kate and I have become friends. After you left she was the only connection I had to you…” he trails off and shrugs, turning his watch away.
It’s hard to hear that my ex-best friend and ex-husband cried on each other’s shoulders. I realise how much I’ve missed her, I’ve never thought of her as an ex-friend, only as an absent one.
“You look tired Anastasia, go to bed.” The concern in his voice touches the very depths of my heart but I know it means nothing if he can’t see it himself.
I swirl the last of my wine in my glass and gulp it down, “I am. Maybe things will look better in the morning.”
Last night I felt hopeful, our potential relationship blooming with possibilities but tonight I feel deflated. “Good night Christian.” As I walk past him I give him a squeeze on what I know is a beautifully defined bicep, not lingering to see his reaction as I continue down the passage to my room.
I feel slightly better after my bath and make a last trip to the kitchen for a glass of water before turning in – this time with my black silk kimono tied securely over my revealing slip. I’m not taking any chances.
The lights have all been turned off except for the strip glowing from Christian’s study and the pendulums over the kitchen island. I pour myself a glass of water and down it in one go. When I turn to leave Christian is standing behind me, making me jump and I clutch at my heart with fright.
He’s holding a sheet of paper in one hand and in spite of the darkness I sense the intensity of his rage. “You scared me.” my voice is whisper quiet, my mouth suddenly dry again.
He slams the sheet on the island, under the lights but he doesn’t say a word. My eyes darting from him to the paper and back to him finally realising that he wants me to read the page. I step closer, peering at the printed words. I don’t recognise the logo but the design indicates that it’s something medical. It’s a statement of some sort, expenses listed, one below the other. As I sweep down the list my eyes brake at one that’s circled in red, halting my breath.
I feel him behind me, “is this for him Anastasia? Do you want the fucking doctor?” his accusing tone can only be described as a snarl.
I close my eyes against the burgeoning anger, when will he learn? I twist around and look up into his eyes, unashamed, bold. “No.”
“Why then? Why would you get an IUD?” the steel of his gaze is bolted to mine, unrelenting.
“You are an ass!” I tear away my stare, aware that I’m going to have to spell it out but every fibre of my being rebelling against it.
His body has me pinned while he grips my chin to move my head, capturing my gaze again. I jut out my chin in defiance, “it’s for you!” I spit out the words that should have had a romantic lilt to them.
His eyes widen in shock before a dangerously wicked shadow of lust burns his anger away.
In less than a second both my hands are secured in his irony grip, while the other unties my robe with practised ease. A scorching hand glides over the smooth fabric of my slip igniting a fire trail in its path. His hot mouth crushes mine, bruising and consuming. Between licking at my mouth and taking a breath his growling whisper reverberates through my core, “is this what you want Anastasia?”
My stunted senses are in overload, neurons firing only in one direction as heat and desire pools between my legs. “Aaahh… yes.”
“And this?” his hand slips the thin strap off my shoulder and it falls away revealing a tight nipple on a milky breast screaming for attention. His skilled fingers relieving the ache with a hard pinch before he cups the full orb, kneading it roughly.
I can only gasp into his mouth, no longer able to articulate a single thought. He pushes himself against me, rocking his hips and thick erection against my sex.
I throw my head back, dragging in some air, my body unused to the overpowering stimulation. Christian’s hungry mouth finds my neck, “and this?” his hand skating over the goose bumps of my upper thighs as he cups my behind and lifts my leg over his anchoring hip.
The growl he makes when his hand encounters naked flesh, without the barriers of panties, sends my need for him out of control. His hand quickly snakes around, unstoppable and eager to dive between us and into the swollen folds of my saturated sex. “Ana.” The sound is primitive – pained and tortured. I feel his body go tense as he stops all ministrations, enfolding me in a bone crushing embrace, burying his sweaty head in my neck and breathing hard.
“What the hell??!!”
It grabs me away from my storming release like ice water, all my systems on high alert. I cling to him with all my might as my own ragged breathing sounds in my ears. Our reunion and the promise of nirvana stealing away with every slowing beat of our hearts.
When I lift his face to mine the expression I find is anguish. “Is this what you want?” I ask gently, not sure where we stand.
“Fuck Ana, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I lose all sense around you.” his tone is beseeching, imploring my help though I’m not sure what I can do.
“Can’t you just give in to us, admit that it’s what you want?”
“I’m terrified Ana, don’t you understand? What if we fuck it up again? Losing the two of you? I won’t survive.”
Fuck, that’s what it all comes down to, broken trust. No, broken might still be fixed, this is shattered trust.
His honesty takes my breath away. “What if I could prove to you that I won’t run?” finally I get my chance and I seize it.
He shakes his head, eyes confused and brow knitted, not understanding.
“I have something for you, something I drew up, just for you. Please read it, it will explain.” I wait for his okay then race to my bedroom to fish out the printed copy of my contract.
If this doesn’t work I’m out of ideas. I don’t think I’ll be able to go on trying in the mighty face of his resistance.
I’ve gone to some silly lengths to make it look authentic, even sealing the envelope with a red wax seal; I just hope he doesn’t think it’s stupid. I pad into his study where I knew he’d be waiting for me – his territory – the seat of his power. His back is turned to me, lost in the twinkling lights of the inky Seattle night.
My heart sinks when his turn reveals his impassive face, a careful guard in his watch.
“This is for you,” I swallow past the unease, “it’s a contract that I’ve already signed, what you can expect from me.” My words have the desired effect as I see recognition for the ones he used once to effectively slice through my reticence.
He takes the envelope and turns it over in his hand, looking at it like it’s an alien thing.
“This is it Christian, right here, right now. This is the moment and I want you to be certain, to know, that I choose you. Us.” My murmur is loaded with sentiment, willing him to choose me too.
This is the last encouragement he needs to sit down and open the envelope.
Contract of agreement between Anastasia Rose Steel and Christian Grey.
This is a contract entered into by Anastasia Rose Steele (hereinafter referred to as “the Girlfriend” and Christian Grey (hereinafter referred to as “the Boyfriend”) on this date: ___________
The Girlfriend undertakes to offer the Boyfriend the following undertakings in a binding and willing manner in order to bring peace of mind and romantic certainty to the Boyfriend within the confines of a romantic, committed relationship.
This Contact Serves to Stipulate the Following Terms of Expectations:
1. The Girlfriend will always endeavour to be honest with the Boyfriend, communicating openly in order to provide the Boyfriend with a clear understanding of her needs, desires and emotions.
2. The Girlfriend commits never to leave this relationship for any reason whatsoever except with the express desire of the Boyfriend.
3. The Girlfriend undertakes to consult a specialist of the Boyfriend’s choosing to help her address her insecurities and will commit to the steps deemed necessary by said specialist in order to overcome these insecurities.
4. The Girlfriend will heed to a “safe-word” of the Boyfriend’s choosing when she pushes him beyond the limits he deems acceptable.
5. The Girlfriend will obey the Boyfriend in all things except when the Boyfriend is being overbearing and unreasonable.
6. The Girlfriend promises not to defy the Boyfriend’s requests except when she deems it necessary.
7. The Girlfriend will eat as often and as healthily as she can but the Boyfriend will not deem it as a fault of hers if she fails to do so at every opportunity.
8. The Girlfriend commits to regular, quality sleep but should the Girlfriend be unable to do so, the Boyfriend will be understanding.
9. The Girlfriend will be thrilled with any item the Boyfriend wishes to bestow on her whether it be clothes, jewellery, automobiles or any other thing that he sees fit.
10. The Girlfriend commits to an exercise regime of the Boyfriend’s choosing for three hours per week provided that she has the time and access to relevant child care.
11. The Girlfriend will undergo any beauty treatment deemed necessary by the Boyfriend with the minimum of complaining.
12. The Girlfriend will at all times respect and heed the Boyfriend’s need to keep her safe, making as many as possible reasonable adjustments in order to help him to trust her judgment.
13. The Girlfriend will not enter into any sexual relations with anyone other than the Boyfriend and recognize that her behaviour is a direct reflection on the Boyfriend.
Failure to comply with any of the above will result in immediate punishment, the nature of which shall be determined by the Boyfriend.
This contract shall be governed by the laws of our relationship.
Closing Statement Defining the Spirit of this Contact:
Christian Grey, I love you and I want to be what you need, your salvation, your everything. I’m entering into this contract with my eyes wide open, accepting all the things that come with you. Let me love you. With this I give you my entire heart, unreservedly, because I trust you with it. I broke my wedding vows once for reasons I thought altruistic at the time but now I revoke my right to leave, fully and completely with nothing wavering. With this I hope to show you my absolute certainty in our future.
Signatures of parties involved:
Anastasia Rose Steele Christian Grey
While his head is bent over the contract, concentrating, the silence is stinging my ears. I feel like pacing but I don’t want to distract him. Long minutes pass that does nothing to calm my strung-out nerves. When he finally lifts his head, I feel the punch in my gut, the dry burn in my throat.
Of all the expressions I was expecting, dumbfounded incredulousness what the last one I anticipated. “You think…. I want you…. as my girlfriend?”
Be kind and review, please.